Gill and Ron Leonard have used their building and interior design skills to take a drab, run-down 1960s-styled vicarage and make it into an award-winning stylish country house for couples. They spoke to Neil Gerrard
Need-to-know Gill and Ron Leonard have been running the Moorlands country house in the village of Levisham on the North York Moors for a decade. The Victorian vicarage with its commanding, impressive views over the moors, was a property Gill knew well even before she and her husband bought it, having spent her childhood summer holidays there as a guest.
However, when they first took it on 14 years ago, it was "very 1960s" and required extensive renovation - fortunately something that Ron, a former builder, and Gill, a former interior designer, could turn their hands to easily. "It is strange to come back again and now live here and bring it back to how I remember," Gill says.
Target market The target market for the business is predominantly couples, and the business does not take children below the age of 15. "We are in such a lovely setting and a quiet village, so we really target it for couples who want to come away and relax and enjoy good food and wines," Gill explains. At first the Leonards thought it would be older couples who the property would appeal to, but it turned out they get a reasonable spread of ages, with guests from as far away as Japan. The guest house is also particularly popular with tourists from Canada, Australia and America.
Marketing The couple have spent time ensuring that they are in a number of guide books, and they are also on the North York Moors website, as well as the Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit Yorkshire sites. But it is TripAdvisor and old-fashioned word of mouth that they find work the best for promoting their business.
"We always ask people how they found us and people generally say TripAdvisor," Gill says. She points out that she is wary of the site and keeps a close eye on it, given the well-documented problems that some operators have experienced with it, but that generally the site works well for them.
Website investment The Moorlands has recently had its website completely redesigned, at a cost of £2,000 by a local firm also based in the village of Levisham. The investment was, according to Gill, well worthwhile, and has seen a 30% upswing in bookings since it was introduced. It also ranks much more highly in search engines like Google since the Leonards brought the professionals on board.
"It has been absolutely fantastic for us and that seems to be bringing in a lot more enquiries than our other website did," she says. "One of the key factors with the website is keep it quite simple. If it is complicated people can't get into it.
"Our old one was a bit long-winded. This is more to the point and that is what people want," Gill adds.
Low season Thanks to the notoriously cold and snowy winters on the North York Moors (last winter the village was heavily snowed under), the Moorlands closes from the end of November until the following Easter - a period of around four months.
During that time, the Leonards take the opportunity to send handwritten Christmas cards to customers, keeping them abreast of upcoming events for the following year.
"Our repeat business is just fantastic and we keep in touch with everyone. They tend to appreciate that we do still do the personal touch," Gill says.
Accessibility The business is currently in talks with National Parks to introduce ground floor accommodation, which is more accessible to disabled guests.
"We are in talks with National Parks and they are very helpful at the moment so it looks like it is going ahead," Gill explains.
"We do get quite a few customers with disabilities. At the moment they can just about cope because as this is an old Victorian house they can still manage the stairs, but as the years go by and everyone gets that little bit older, guests who have been coming for years will have a difficulty later."
The Moorlands also gets plenty of enquiries from potential new customers who want to find out about disabled access.
"It is shame that they can't come to this area and see what we have got because we don't have that facility, which is why we are really pushing for this now," Gill adds.
SPOTLIGHT ON BREAKFASTS
The Moorlands is renowned for its breakfasts, for which it has won an enjoyengland.com Breakfast Award.
They are cooked by Ron Leonard who, despite his former life as a builder, has always taken a close interest in cuisine.
The breakfast menu changes daily and uses a variety of local and home-made produce, including eggs collected the same morning from the guest house's own chickens (pictured), home-made muesli, yogurts, jams and chutneys. Breakfast kippers also come from nearby Whitby.
"One of things that the guests really enjoy is that we can tell them where everything in the breakfast came from," Gill says.
The evening menu also changes on a daily basis, and the business makes the promise that the Leonards' guests will never eat the same dish twice, no matter how long they stay at Moorlands.
FACTS AND STATS
Staff 2, plus 2-3 part time
Rooms 4, plus a self-catering cottage
Average weekly occupancy 79% excluding winter
Per night B&B per room £140 (£180 with evening meal)